Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio

Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio

Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio

Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio


An interest in the history of African American entrepreneurship has produced a number of studies of economic development on the national level, but very few have examined this growth at the local level. Against All Odds was written to bridge that gap. Bessie House Soremekun provides a historical analysis of black entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio, from the early 1800s to the present day. Soremekun's statistical analysis of the factors that contributed to the success of African American businesses in Cleveland is supported by extensive research, and her policy recommendations about how entrepreneurship could be stimulated through public and private programs are thought provoking. In addition, examining historical and current trends of African American entrepreneurship, Soremekun presents brief biographies of several successful entrepreneurs, among them best-selling author George Fraser and internationally acclaimed architect Robert P. Madison. The book also documents the life histories of business owners who have had unsuccessful business experiences, compares black male and female business owners, and offers insights into why some businesses succeed while others fail. Against All


by Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

President and Founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition

While he is most often remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was no idle dreamer. He was a practical man of action, focused on changing social, political, and economic policy in America for those who had been disenfranchised, a leader who understood that change required challenging the structure of entrenched arrangements. Dr. King was a visionary. Toward the end of his life, Dr. King became more and more convinced that the struggle for economic justice was central to the civil rights movement. He viewed the fundamental gap between America’s potential and its reality as a resource gap (including an investment gap, a capital gap, a trade gap, and a historical legal gap) rather than just a race gap. The justice and prosperity that America seeks requires that these gaps be closed and that breaches are healed. Cultural blinders that limit growth, development, and market expansion must be removed.

Dr. King’s last assignment to me was to expand Operation Breadbasket to Chicago, Illinois, and other northern cities such as Cleveland, Ohio. The mission of Breadbasket was to open up American business to the talent and potential offered by African Americans. Assisting Dr. King, and pivotal to the success of Breadbasket in Cleveland, was Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. We challenged the exclusion of African Americans from business and worked to open up franchises, loans, and investment for African American entrepreneurs.

In the tradition of Operation Breadbasket and in honor of Dr. King’s legacy, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition launched the Wall Street Project in 1997 to encourage Corporate America, and particularly the financial services industry, to embrace inclusion as a means of growth and to shine the spotlight on the fundamental missing ingredient in the formula for black business success—access to capital.

If I were to compose a four-movement Freedom Symphony, the first movement would be from slavery to emancipation—ending a traumatic period of trade in this country. The second movement would be the public accommodation laws and the struggle to end Jim Crow. The third movement would be the 1964 Voting Rights Act and the political empowerment that accompanied it, so . . .

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